What are the best things to do in Lyon, France? From historical and architectural landmarks to gastronomy, Lyon has it all! And this blog post will cover the best that Lyon has to offer.
Lyon or Lyons is the third-largest city and second-largest urban area of France. Lyon is located at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers, in the Rhône-Alpes region of France. It’s about 470 km from Paris, 320 km from Marseille, and 56 km from Saint-Étienne.
Former named Lugdunum, Capital of the Gauls at the time of the Roman Empire, Lyon is the seat of an archbishopric whose holder bears the title of Primate of the Gauls.
Lyon became a major economic hub during the Renaissance. The city is known for its cuisine and gastronomy, historical and architectural landmarks such as Old Lyon, the Fourvière hill, the Presqu’île, and the slopes of the Croix-Rousse are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Lyon was historically an important area for the production and weaving of silk. It is where the Lumière brothers invented the cinematograph. Its light festival, the Fête des Lumières in December is also well-known.
When visiting Lyon, if you want to save money and do a lot of sightseeing, you can buy Lyon Card which allows you to visit 22 museums for free, free public transport, and many discounts!
If you are going to travel to Lyon very soon and haven’t booked the accommodations yet, I recommend reading this blog about where to Stay in Lyon to know more what are the best areas to stay in Lyon.
Let’s go into the detail of the list of 24 best things to do and see in Lyon, France.
- 24 Best Things to Do in Lyon, France
- Old Lyon (Vieux Lyon)
- Wander around Traboules
- Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière
- Parc de la Tête d’Or
- Croix-Rousse and its silk industry
- Bellecour Square (Place Bellecour)
- Lyon Museum of Fine Arts
- Ancient Theatre of Fourvière
- Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière
- Lyon Cathedral (Cathédrale St-Jean)
- Musée & Institut Lumière
- Musée Gadagne
- Musée Miniature et Cinéma
- Lyon’s Murals
- Lyon Les Halles Market (Les Halles Paul Bocuse)
- Lyon’s Célestins Theatre (Théâtre des Célestins)
- Lyonnaise Cuisine, Eat in a Bouchons de Lyon
- Musée des Confluences
- Les Bateaux Lyonnais, cruise tours on Rhône and Saône rivers
- Lyon Wine tours
- Lyon Zoo
- La Fête Des Lumières
- Rue de la République
24 Best Things to Do in Lyon, France
1. Old Lyon (Vieux Lyon)
Located in the 5th arrondissement, between Fourvière hill and the river Saône, Vieux Lyon is renaissance district of Lyon. it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Lyon Old Town has remained its historical atmosphere for centuries thanks to French government policy in 1962 when André Malraux, French Minister of Culture, chose Lyon Old Town as first France’s protected area.
There are plenty of sights in this area, such as the former business square of the city – Place du Change, Rue St-Jean, and many hidden passageways, or traboules that you can wander around.
The Old Town has three distinct areas. The Northern Old Town is Saint-Paul district, named after the église St Paul.
The Old Town center is Saint-Jean (St John). The Southern Old Town is Saint-Georges district and is named after église Saint-Georges.
Located between the Rhône and the Saône rivers, Presqu’île peninsula is the cultural and commercial heart of Lyon.
There are plenty of attractions in Presqu’îlem, especially the area between Place des Terreaux and Place Bellecour.
Around place des Terreax, you will find Fountain de Bartholdi, and Hotel de Ville of Lyon, Lyon’s Opera House, Eglise St Nizier, Eglise Saint Bonaventure, and Palais du Commerce.
Toward the south to Place Bellecour, you will find Place des Jacobins, Theatre des Celestins, Hotel Dieu Hospital.
If you like history, there are Lyon Musee des Beaux-Arts, Musée de l’Imprimerie (Printing Museum), and Musée des Tissus et des Arts Decoratifs.
3. Wander around Traboules
Traboules in the Latin ‘trans ambulare’ or ‘to pass through’. Traboules are “shortcuts” allowing you to pass from one street to another through corridors and interior courtyards of buildings.
There are about 400 hidden corridors, narrow passages, and stairwells in Lyon, but only about 50 are open to the public.
You can find the best-known and oldest traboules in Vieux-Lyon, the more modern version on the slopes of Croix-Rousse hill, and lesser-known on the Presqu’île.
The first traboules were built in the 4th century allow people access to the town’s freshwater source quickly.
Later during Renaissance, these passageways were used for Canuts workers to transport their work between workshops in the Croix-Rousse to the textile merchants at the foot of the hill.
During World War II, It was used by the French Resistance fighting against occupying German forces.
Traboule de la cour des Voraces, known as Traboule of the Voracious Court is the most famous traboule in Lyon. It is one of the landmarks of the Canut Revolts in the 19th-century.
Cour des Voraces, or the Court of Voracious is also famous traboule goes through a courtyard and a building with a six-floor stairway of façade.
4. Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière (Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière)
Located on the top of Fourvière hill, “the hill which prays”, the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière has become a symbol of Lyon, attracting 2.5 million pilgrims and visitors each year.
You can take a taxi up or the Saint-Jean – Fourvière funicular to the hilltop basilica and walk down to enjoy the scenery without quite the strain on your legs.
The Fourvière basilica was built between 1872 and 1884, on the site of a Roman forum of Trajan and an early Christian temple.
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary who saved Lyon from the Black Death, Each year on December 8, Lyon celebrates the Festival of Lights to thank the Virgin for saving the city.
Designed by Pierre Bossan, it has both Romanesque, Gothic, and Byzantine architecture.
There are 4 towels including Prudence and Temperance overlooking the city of Lyon, Force, and Justice dominating the square.
There is also a bell tower topped with a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary, impressive mosaics on the walls, a crypt, and surrounded gardens.
5. Parc de la Tête d’Or
The English-style garden in the 6th arrondissement, Le Parc de la Tete d’Or, also known as Tête d’Or Park, is the largest urban park in France.
The park has a zoo, boating lake, botanical gardens, miniature railway, pony rides, walking, jogging, or bicycling trails.
Families and children can relax, enjoy the natural beauty, and do many activities.
Originally established by the brother’s Denis and Eugène Buhler in 1857, the glasshouses and the rose gardens were added later.
6. Croix-Rousse and its silk industry
Known as the hill that works, Croix-Rousse is the hill in the 4th arrondissement in the northern part of the Presqu’île.
You can visit by taking the funicular to the top and then walking down to the center to enjoy the views of the colorful buildings, narrow streets.
The Croix-Rousse has two areas the slopes (les pentes) and the plateau ( a flat top area) of the hill. The les pentes is a maze of secret passageways with a bohemian atmosphere.
On its slope lies the Amphithéâtre des Trois Gaules, the oldest Roman Amphitheatre of Gaul. it was completed in 19 AD, and hosted shows and circus games.
Meanwhile, the plateau has a more village-like atmosphere, where you can find one of Lyon’s biggest outdoor markets, the Marché de la Croix-Rousse in Le Boulevards de la Croix-Rousse.
At its Square of La Croix-Rousse stands a statue of Joseph Marie Jacquard, who invented the Jacquard Loom in 1801.
You can also find “The Canuts’ Fresco, a Trompe-l’oeil”, which is painted in 1987 and is the largest in Europe.
Croix-Rousse is famous for its history with the Canuts, workers weaving silk. the area was home to thousands of silk workers in the 19th Century.
If you’re interested in silk, visit the silk workshops, Silk Workers’ House, or Maison des Canuts to learn more about its history from its start to the revolts of the silk workers to the invention of the Jacquard loom.
7. Bellecour Square (Place Bellecour)
Bellecour Square is a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. With 15 acres, this gigantic dusty red square is the largest pedestrianized square in Europe.
On the center of the square stand the equestrian statue of Louis XIV. At the west end of the square are the statues of the Little Prince, and the famous Lyonnais Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
There are two pavilions on the square that are home to the Tourist Office and an art gallery.
The square hosts major events like a book fair, public concerts, student and union demonstrations, and a weekly Friday roller ride that begins here.
During the festive season in winter, the square transforms with the addition of an ice skating rink and a 60-meter Ferris wheel.
Place Bellecour is the the starting point of four main streets inluding rue Victor Hugo and rue du Plat both leading to Perrache; and rue du Président Édouard Herriot, leading to the Place des Terreaux; rue de la République, leading to Hôtel de Ville and the Opera;
8. Lyon Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux Arts de Lyon)
Lyon Museum of Fine Arts is the largest Fine Arts museum in France after the Louvre with 70 rooms covering 7,000 square meters.
It is in the Palais Saint Pierre, a former Benedictine convent of the 17th and 18th centuries near place des Terreaux.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon displays sculptures and paintings from the 14th to the 20th century, collections from ancient Egyptian antiquities to Contemporary Art.
The museum contains of 3 buildings: the Abbey, the Palais du commerce et des Arts and the Musée des Beaux-Arts.
9. Ancient Theatre of Fourvière (Théâtre Antique de Lyon)
Located on the hill of Fourvière, the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière is a part of UNESCO World Heritage Sit. It’s a Roman ancient structure in the center of Roman City.
In this site stand two preserved Roman theaters, the Grand Théâtre built by Augustus in 15 BCE and the Odéon which was used for poetry and musical recital.
There are also the ruins of the Temple of Cybele. The Nuits de Fourvière festival is held in this Roman theatre from 1 June to 30 July each year.
To reach this tourist site, you can take a funicular railway from St Just.
10. Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière
Located near the city’s Roman theatre and odeon, on a Fourvière hill, Lugdunum, or the Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon-Fourvière, is a museum of Gallo-Roman civilization.
It’s housed in a building that was designed by Bernard Zehrfuss and was inaugurated in 1975.
The museum displays a collection of Roman, Celtic, and pre-Roman material, including inscriptions, statues, jewelry, everyday objects. It also regularly organizes temporary exhibitions.
11. Lyon Cathedral (Cathédrale St-Jean)
Located on Place Saint-Jean in central Lyon, Lyon Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church and is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.
Cathédrale St-Jean was built on the site of the ancient Sainte Croix and Etienne churches between 1165 and 1480.
Because it took over four centuries to build, it has both Romanesque and Gothic in its style. The apse and choir are of Romanesque design; the nave and façade are Gothic.
The cathedral has two crosses to right and left of the altar, the Bourbon chapel, the 14th century Lyon Astronomical Clock, and organ.
12. Musée & Institut Lumière
Located in the heart of Lyon’s Monplaisir neighborhood, Lumière Institute is where the Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumiere, invented the Cinématographe and made history by making the first film in 1895.
It was founded in 1982 by the grandson of Louis Lumière in the former Lumière family home. The Institut Lumière has a cinema and a museum.
The cinema hosts the Festival Lumière in October to celebrate the history of French and international cinema and films.
The museum has with all four floors open to the public and filled with objects and information describing their contribution to cinema.
13. Musée Gadagne
Located in the 5th arrondissement, in the Saint-Jean quarter, Musée Gadagne contains two museums of the Museum of world puppets and the Lyon History Museum and
The museum is housed in the Hôtel Gadagne, which was originally built by the brothers Pierrevive and was redesigned by brothers Gadagne in 1545.
The Historical Museum of Lyon, known as Musée d’histoire de Lyon shows the collections of 80,000 objects in 30 rooms spread over four floors.
The museum of the world puppets, also known as Musée des marionnettes du monde, has collections of 2000 puppets on the first floor.
The third floor has a 150-seat theater Gadagne and the fourth floor has access to the garden.
14. Musée Miniature et Cinéma
Located in the heart of the Renaissance District, in Vieux Lyon, the Musée Miniature et Cinéma was established by the miniaturist artist Dan Ohlmann.
Miniature and Cinema Museum has two permanent collections, a collection of the art of miniature and a collection of special effect techniques used in films.
It has the works of artist Dan Ohlmann and the works of many other miniature artists
15. Lyon’s Murals
The City of Murals has more than 150 murals across Lyon. Many frescos were designed and created by the Lyon-based company CitéCréation.
One of their famous projects is the nearly 13,000-square-foot La Fresque des Canuts (the Silk-Weavers’ Wall), which is the biggest fresco in Europe on the slopes of the Croix-Rousse district.
Another famous mural is trompe l’oeil is La Fresque des Lyonnais (Famous Faces of Lyon Fresco), with are 31 famous Lyonnais on 800 square meters including the Roman emperor Claudius, Paul Bocuse, Lumière brothers, Jacquard loom Joseph-Marie Jacquard, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
You also have Le Mur du Cinéma, a painted wall that represents a film shoot and a staging of the first film with one of the Lumière brothers.
La Bibliothèque de la Cité (The Cité Library), or the Mur des Écrivains dispslays about 300 Lyonnais writers from Lyon and the Rhône-Alpes region.
There are so many more murals such as the Cour des Loges Fresco, Les routes de la soie (the Silk roads), the Lumière Fresco, the Diego Rivera Fresco, and the Gerland Fresco.
16. Lyon Les Halles Market (Les Halles Paul Bocuse)
The indoor food market of the gastronomic capital of France, Les Halles Market is a heaven for foodies where you can find more than 50 vendors, bars, and restaurants.
This market is located within easy walking distance from the Gare de Lyon-Part-Dieu, and close to Place Guichard station.
Les Halles was opened in the La Part-Dieu in 1971. It is now 13,000 square meters with over 3 floors after the extensive renovations in 2003.
Lyon Les Halles Market is named after the master chef Paul Bocuse and secured its reputation as one of the finest places for food anywhere.
Here, you can try the best of Lyonnaise Cuisine. The best time to visit is late morning or mid-afternoon, many stands close for lunch and some do not reopen in the afternoon.
There are so many markets in Lyon that you can explore including Marché de la Tête d’Or in Brotteaux neighbourhood, Marché des Quais du Rhône Victor Augagneur, Marché de Monplaisir, Marché Saint-Antoine, and Marché Jean Macé.
17. Lyon’s Célestins Theatre (Théâtre des Célestins)
Located in Lyon’s second arrondissement, near the Jacobin’s Fountain, Lyon’s Célestins Theatre was built in 1972 on the vestiges of a Celestine monastery.
It has a capacity of 1030 people with a 170-seat room. Visitors can enjoy top performances in this historical building.
18. Lyonnaise Cuisine, Eat in a Bouchons de Lyon
Known as the Gastronomic Capital of the World, Lyon is a haven for foodies. Today, Lyon is home to more than 4,300 restaurants and many Michelin stars.
You have to try to eat in one of its Les Bouchons Lyonnais, or restaurants offer the most authentic Lyonnaise dishes like cervelle de canut, la quenelle, la tablier de sapeur, a pot Lyonnaise.
19. Musée des Confluences
Located on the southern tip of the presqu’île peninsular, at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers Musée des Confluences, The Musée des Confluences Natural History Museum is a museum of natural history and societies.
You can admire its futuristic glass, concrete and stainless steel architecture style building. The Crystal is the main entrance and the Cloud contains eight exhibition rooms.
It has four permanent exhibitions, the Origins, stories of the world; species: the web of life; societies, the human theatre; and the eternities.
There are also temporary exhibitions, digital and experimental spaces, and auditoriums.
20. Les Bateaux Lyonnais, cruise tours on Rhône and Saône rivers
Sightseeing Lyon on a river cruise will be a memorial experience in Lyon.
You can enjoy the views of famous attractions by boat like the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, the Confluence area, and the greenery area of Ile Barbe.
21. Lyon Wine tours
Lyon Wine Tastings is a unique wine tour experience in the heart of Lyon that you must try during your visit to Lyon!
A short drive towards Lyon lies the wine areas of Beaujolais and Côtes du Rhône. These green areas offer charming sceneries and tasteful wines!
22. Lyon Zoo
Located in la Tete d’Or park, the Zoo de Lyon (Zoo of the Park of the Golden Head), formerly known as the Zoological Garden of Lyon, is a great place for families to spend fun days out with their children.
The zoo is home to more than 300 animals and 66 species and was established in 1858 by Claude-Marius Vaïsse.
23. La Fête Des Lumières
La Fête Des Lumières, also known as the Festival of Lights in Lyon, is the most famous public festival in the Rhône-Alpes region.
It’s celebrated in honor of the Virgin Mary, to whom the city of Lyon was devoted during the Middle Ages.
The Capital of Lights attracts several million visitors during La Fête Des Lumières to admire the illuminations and nighttime light shows.
During the 4-day event in December, The residents light up their windows and balconies and proceed through the streets carrying traditional tea lights.
24. Rue de la République
If you love shopping, you must head to Republic Street (Rue de la Republique), the main shopping street in Lyon in the second arrondissement.
The street is part of the area designated as the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Similar with the avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, Rue de la République has a variety of luxury shops, restaurants, and cafeterias.
It is also lined with the 19th century Haussman-style buildings, including City Hall (Hôtel de Ville), the Opera Nouvel, Nouveau Grand Bazar, and Palais du Commerce.
These are the best things to do in see in Lyon, also known as the Capital of Lights, the City of Murals, and the Gastronomic Capital of the World.
Now all you need to do is to book your accommodations, choose the date, and be ready to go!